E - Elephant beans. 2 seeds (4 beans) in a cherry.
PB - Peaberry. Single bean in a cherry.
TT - Light beans sorted from Grade AA, AB and E with air.
T - Thin, broken beans sorted from Grade C.
MH/ML - Unwashed, overly ripe coffee that fell off from the trees.
Few coffee enthusiasts will argue the quality of a good cup of Kenyan coffee.
Interestingly, despite sharing borders with the birthplace of Arabica coffee, Ethiopia, coffee was only introduced in the late 19th century in Kenya when the Scottish missionaries began introducing Bourbon coffee seeds to Africa for cultivation.
It was during this period when Kenya was under the British colonial rule that a large number of white settlers migrated to Kenya and accelerated the development of the coffee industry and the country as a whole.
The completion of the Uganda Railway in 1901 was among the major catalyst for the growth of coffee production in Kenya.
Dubbed “The Lunatic Express”, the Uganda Railway costs 5 years, 200,000 workers and £5.5 million (£650 million in 2016 money) to construct. Credit: Library of Congress
Urged by the need to recoup the exorbitant cost of the Railway, British actively encouraged white settlers to establish coffee plantations in Kenya.
While this has increased the export economy in Kenya, little was enjoyed by the Kenyans; the local laborers were only paid minimal wages, while the local farmers were restricted by unfair taxes.
Discontent amongst the oppressed Kenyans erupted in several violent uprising which eventually led to Kenya’s independence in 1963.
The coffee sector was turned over primarily to Kenyans shortly after the independence and the tremendous know-how of coffee production were well adapted by the local farmers, resulting in Kenya’s high coffee standards.
Coffee Production in Kenya
Today, the country’s primary growing regions are situated in the Central Highlands. Around 55% of Kenya’s coffee is produced by at least 600, 000 smallholders, which are organised into several hundreds of co-operatives for pulping. This ingenious organisation of coffee production is what ensures the consistency of taste in Kenya’s coffee.
Possibly because Kenya planted coffee late, the country has one of the most modern coffee industries in the world.
Kenya was among the first country to adopt a grading system that addresses coffee quality. It has also developed a unique double fermentation processing method, popularly known as Kenya Washed.
Some of the world’s most famed coffee varieties were developed by the Kenyan Scott Laboratories in the 1950s and the Kenyan Coffee Research Foundation in the 1970s. This includes SL-28, SL-34, Ruiru 11, and Batian.
While the rest of the world were still using the commercial pricing system, Kenya’s coffee industry had already adopted a weekly government-run open auction system in as early as 1934.
Kenya has one of the first open auction system based on coffee quality, which inspired the Cup of Excellence auctions that exist today. Credit: REUTERS/Antony Njuguna
However, this system is not without any disadvantage; it encourages a long chain of middlemen that reduces the farmers’ income.
To overcome this problem, Kenya established a new legislation in 2006 that enables direct coffee sales negotiation between farmers and buyers. To date, the Kenyan government has licensed at least 30 independent agents for direct trade with coffee buyer, bypassing the previously compulsory open auction system.
Meanwhile, the auction system continues to run in parallel, the system by which most of Kenya’s coffees are still sold.
Kenyan coffee has a fairly specific characteristics, probably because the Kenyan coffee industry is strictly regulated by the Coffee Board of Kenya (Nairobi), which ensures the quality and consistency of its coffee.
Kenyan coffee is wine-like and full-bodied, and noted for its sharp, fruity and sometimes citrusy flavors due to its high acidity. Its green beans are consistently small, round, and deep greeny-blue in colour.
Some of the smallest coffee beans in the world are found in Kenya.
“The’white highlands’ of Kenya.” Morgan, W. T. W., Geographical Journal, 140-155, 1963.
“Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire” Reid, R., The English Historical Review, 120(488), 2005.